The Ecumenical Councils of Trent and Vatican I and the Creed of Pius IV all require us to:

…accept the Holy Scripture according to that sense which holy mother the Church hath held, and doth hold, and to whom it belongeth to judge the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures [and] never take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

If is often said that the Church has, in fact, only very rarely defined the precise meaning of a biblical passage. Whether or not that is true one clear instance of such a definition is the Bull Unam Sanctam which has very precise teaching concerning Luke 22:35-38 and John 18:11. In ordering the disciples to buy a sword if they had not one already, and in telling them that two swords are enough, and in ordering Peter to sheath his sword Our Lord laid out the precise nature of the jurisdiction of the sacramental hierarchy and  the Supreme Pontiff over the temporal power.

Both the temporal and the spiritual power are intrinsic to the Church. The spiritual sword is to be exercised for the specific ends for which the Church was instituted and by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In contrast, the temporal sword must be exercised by members of the Church but cannot be wielded by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (although they may confiscate it if it is misused and assign it to another) because it is not a means by which the specific ends of the Church may be advanced.

What rarely seems to attract much notice is the reason Our Lord gave for this arrangement:

And he said to them: When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you want anything? But they said: Nothing. Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword. For I say to you, that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in me: And with the wicked was he reckoned. For the things concerning me have an end. But they said: Lord, behold here are two swords. And he said to them, It is enough.

The apostles are told to obtain a sword because Christ will be treated as a criminal. As Our Lord also said at the Last Supper “the servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.” The opposition between the Church and the world is such that the Apostles (and their successors) need to have the protection of force in order to function. Yet, a short time later when Peter uses his sword to try to defend the Lord he is rebuked. “Put up thy sword into thy scabbard”. The Apostles have two swords but they are permitted to wield only one. The word of God is in the power of the clergy the state is to be in the power of the laity.

How does this fit with the prohibition on coercive conversion? The temporal sword of Christendom is essentially defensive. It is not ‘for’ the Church as Boniface VIII insists, it is wielded ‘by’ the Church (the lay faithful). The essential purposes of the Church cannot be advanced by violence but the non-ordained members of the Church can use the temporal sword to defend the Church from external persecution. Once the state is no longer in the hands of the Church this is not possible. So long as the state is non-Christian the Church’s business lies in buying the sword (bringing the temporal order by consent into the possession of the Church). Once it is purchased the sword may be drawn – but only by the laity – to stave off temporal impediments to the operation of the spiritual sword. We do not live by the sword. The life of Christendom is established and maintained by the peaceful spreading of the Gospel. However, once that life has reached the highest temporal level of social organisation the temporal sword can and should be drawn in its defence.

As St Cyril of Alexandria teaches:

He says sell his cloak, and buy a sword: for henceforth the question with all those who continue in the land will not be whether they possess anything or not, but whether they can exist and preserve their lives. For war shall befall them with such unendurable impetuosity, that nothing shall be able to stand against it.

At the beginning of the Song of Roland Charlemagne (in deference to his council) seeks to negotiate a temporal peace with Islam. He seeks to keep his cloak instead of buying a sword. He forgets the truth that he remembers later in the midst of battle with the Emir of Babylon: “Never to Paynims may I show love or peace.” The Lord tells us “the things concerning me have an end” there is no new revelation to dispense us from the unremitting opposition of the world. As Leo XIII teaches “Christians are born for combat”. The faithful must sell their cloaks and buy a sword because the state cannot simply be left in the hands of the pagans if the Church is to survive. This is why the Song ends with a weary Emperor roused from his bed by St Gabriel to carry on the war. He sought not first the Kingdom of God and His justice and so earthly peace is taken from him until he learns his lesson.


St Augustine:

As the ointment on the head, which descended to the beard, to Aaron’s beard, which descended to the fringe of his garment. What was Aaron? A priest. Who is a priest, except that one Priest, who entered into the Holy of Holies? Who is that priest, save Him, who was at once Victim and Priest? save Him who when he found nothing clean in the world to offer, offered Himself? The ointment is on his head, because Christ is one whole with the Church, but the ointment comes from the head. Our Head is Christ crucified and buried; He rose again, and ascended into heaven; and the Holy Spirit came from the head. Whither? To the beard. The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man. Thus that ointment descended first upon the Apostles, descended upon those who bore the first assaults of the world, and therefore the Holy Spirit descended on them. For they who first began to dwell together in unity, suffered persecution, but because the ointment descended to the beard, they suffered, but were not conquered…. (in Ps. 132)


St Thomas Aquinas:

It is becoming for those who apply themselves to the Divine ministry to be shaven, and to be tonsured in the form of a crown by reason of the shape. Because a crown is the sign of royalty; and of perfection, since it is circular; and those who are appointed to the Divine service acquire a royal dignity and ought to be perfect in virtue. It is also becoming to them as it involves the hair being taken away: both from the higher part of the head by the tonsure, lest their mind be hindered by temporal occupations from contemplating Divine things, and from the lower part by shaving, lest their senses be entangled in temporal things (Suppl. 40, 1).

I’m not sure how to overcome this aporia, unless we think that Hanon in 1 Sam. 10 had the right idea by shaving off one half of the beards of David’s servants. However, Cornelius a Lapide says that this episode represents the Jews plucking off hairs from Christ’s beard during the Passion, or the devil stripping religious men of their courage, so that does not seem promising. I suppose we have to say that per se it is better for a man, especially a Christian, to possess a beard, at least in this life, but per accidens, e.g. because of a particular need to signify something else, it may become better to be shaved (and tonsured). I say ‘in this life’ because Aelianus tells me that the earliest depictions of our Lord present Him as risen and beardless, in token of eternal youth, and suggests that this may be the ‘other form’ which hindered people from recognising Him after the resurrection.

I presume that the historical reason why priests in the west have generally been shaven is Romanitas. Eastern rite priests of course often have beards, and I have a theory that the East-West division here is a providential counterbalance to the characteristics of their respective liturgies. That is, the Eastern liturgies put before us in particular the glory of the resurrection, so it is fitting that their priests be bearded, to preserve some suggestion of the trials and labours of this life as well, lest we float off into unreality. On the other hand, the Roman rite is more stark and sacrificial, so perhaps there is a danger that adding beards as well might make it too much for some people to take. I hope these are not irreverent thoughts.

Napoleon Bonaparte is the great tragedy of Arthurian Republicanism. The French Revolution overthrew the useless Teutonic parasite that was the Second Estate of the Ancien Regime. Alas for Henry IV! If the heretic king of Navarre had not decided to accept the Mass in exchange for Paris, if Philip II had not insisted that his daughter – the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia – marry a Habsburg, the French Republic might have been founded in 1589 on the basis of the Holy Catholic Faith instead of the pestilential errors of the ‘Enlightenment’. And yet, a wonderful opportunity presented itself when the Corsican general sought to make peace with Pius VII and to restore the meritocratic monarchy swept away by the Sicambrians, Welches and other savages from the woods and swamps of ancient Germany. The foul Talleyrand persuaded the First Consul to recognise Catholicism not as the one true religion but merely as that of the Consul himself and that of the greater number of the French people. A still more wonderful opportunity presented itself when Bonaparte sought the purple and the blessing of the Pope to do so. Napoleon then committed two further terrible errors: he took the title ‘French’ and not ‘Roman’ Emperor and he made his office hereditary. Thus, he tied his laurels to a mere nation and fell back into the blood superstition of the barbarians.

As Beethoven declared “He, too, then, is nothing better than an ordinary man! Now he will trample on all human rights only to humour his ambition; he will place himself above all others,–become a tyrant!” If only Napoleon had restrained himself then the Church might have been forever liberated from the dead weight of the deposed ‘aristocracy’ endlessly demanding that the Lay faithful waste their energies labouring to restore the Ancien Regime instead of the Kingship of Christ, the privileges of the descendants of Alaric and Attila instead of those of Holy Mother Church. If only Napoleon had remained faithful to the Republic then Leo XIII might not have had to expend himself trying to get the obstinate French royalists to rally to it. As Belloc saw “When you have reconciled these two things – I mean the high Stoicism of the Republic and the humility of the Church (for they can co-exist) – then you will have the perfect state.” Of course, St Hippolytus foresaw that the Antichrist would restore the Roman Empire to the government it enjoyed at the time of Augustus, so if Napoleon had done all these things he would no doubt have proved to be the Antichrist in person and not merely a warm-up act. But this does not mean that these priceless acts would not have been in themselves the right things to do. As Pius VII taught as bishop of Imola,

“Strive to attain to the full height of virtue and you will be true democrats. Fulfill faithfully the precepts of the Gospel and you will be the joy of the Republic.”

It does not seem as if God was very keen to give the Israelites a king. The first man to call himself a king in scripture was Nimrod. God told the Israelites He was their king. When they insisted, He told Samuel they were rejecting God Himself and not just His prophet. Of course, in the end, He would assume human nature through the line of David and so cut the Gordian knot tied out of His complaint to Samuel and His promise to David. Jesus Christ, son of David and King of Israel is alive and reigning with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Christians have no need for any other King. In fact, as if to confirm this line of reasoning, God chose the Roman Commonwealth as the vehicle by which He translated the covenant to the gentiles, the polity of a people with a very special loathing for the name of ‘King’ whose monarchical ruler, for all his vast power, did not dare to adopt the title.

One thing, however, troubled me about this analysis. Albeit the so-called ‘Divine Right of Kings’ is a particularly Protestant superstition, still there is a slightly Protestant ring to the argument given above. It is too similar to the argument against Christian priests: that Christ is the one true priest offering the all-sufficient sacrifice. Yet, it seems as if there is room for a Christian kingship just as there is room for a Christian priesthood without validating the Ancien Regime. Although we acknowledge that the Bishop possesses the fullness of the ministerial priesthood of the new covenant, it is not the Bishop but the Presbyter whom we habitually mean by the term Sacerdos. Christ is Prophet, Priest and King and the Christian is called to be Alter Christus. It would seem as if the religious, clergy and laity exemplify each of those charisms. On that basis it is the monk, the presbyter and the father who are, in the new dispensation, most properly, after Jesus, referred to as prophet, priest and king. Only secondarily do we apply these titles to the theologian, the prelate and the politician. As Leo XIII taught,

“The rights here spoken of, belonging to each individual man, are seen in much stronger light when considered in relation to man’s social and domestic obligations. In choosing a state of life, it is indisputable that all are at full liberty to follow the counsel of Jesus Christ as to observing virginity, or to bind themselves by the marriage tie. No human law can abolish the natural and original right of marriage, nor in any way limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage ordained by God’s authority from the beginning: ‘Increase and multiply.’ Hence we have the family, the ‘society’ of a man’s house – a society very small, one must admit, but none the less a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.”

– Rerum Novarum §12



Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1950)

Chapter Six : Race-Thinking Before Racism

i: A “Race” of Aristocrats Against a “Nation” of Citizens

A steadily rising interest in the most different, strange, and even savage peoples was characteristic of France during the eighteenth century. This was the time when Chinese paintings were admired and imitated, when one of the most famous works of the century was named Lettres Persanes, and when travellers’ reports were the favourite reading of society. The honesty and simplicity of savage and uncivilized peoples were opposed to the sophistication and frivolity of culture. Long before the nineteenth century with its tremendously enlarged opportunities for travel brought the non-European world into the home of every average citizen, eighteenth-century French society had tried to grasp spiritually the content of cultures and countries that lay far beyond European boundaries. A great enthusiasm for “new specimens of mankind” (Herder) filled the hearts of the heroes of the French Revolution who together with the French nation liberated every people of every colour under the French flag. This enthusiasm for strange and foreign countries culminated in the message of fraternity, because it was inspired by the desire to prove in every new and surprising “specimen of mankind” the old saying of La Bruyere: “La raison est de tous les climats.”

Yet it is this nation-creating century and humanity-loving country to which we must trace the germs of what later proved to become the nation destroying and humanity-annihilating power of racism. It is a remarkable fact that the first author who assumed the coexistence of different peoples with different origins in France, was at the same time the first to elaborate definite class-thinking. The Comte de Boulainvillicrs, a French nobleman who wrote at the beginning of the eighteenth century and whose works were published after his death, interpreted the history of France as the history of two different nations of which the one, of Germanic origin, had conquered the older inhabitants, the “Gaules,” had imposed its laws upon them, had taken their lands, and had settled down as the ruling class, the “peerage” whose supreme rights rested upon the “right of conquest” and the “necessity of obedience always due to the strongest.” Engaged chiefly in finding arguments against the rising political power of the Tiers Etat and their spokesmen, the “nouveau corps” formed by “gens de lettres et de lois,” Boulainvillicrs had to fight the monarchy too because the French king wanted no longer to represent the peerage as primus inter pares but the nation as a whole; in him, for a while, the new rising class found its most powerful protector. In order to regain uncontested primacy for the nobility, Boulainvillicrs proposed that his fellow-noblemen deny a common origin with the French people, break up the unity of the nation, and claim an original and therefore eternal distinction. Much bolder than most of the later defenders of nobility, Boulainvillicrs denied any predestined connection with the soil; he conceded that the “Gaules” had been in France longer, that the “Francs” were strangers and barbarians. He based his doctrine solely on the eternal right of conquest and found no difficulty in asserting that “Friesland . . . has been the true cradle of the French nation.” Centuries before the actual development of imperialistic racism, following only the inherent logic of his concept, he considered the original inhabitants of France natives in the modern sense, or in his own terms “subjects” — not of the king — but of all those whose advantage was descent from the conquering people, who by right of birth were to be called “Frenchmen.”

Boulainvilliers was deeply influenced by the seventeenth-century might-right doctrines and he certainly was one of the most consistent contemporary disciples of Spinoza, whose Ethics he translated and whose Traite theologico-politique he analysed. In his reception and application of Spinoza’s political ideas, might was changed into conquest and conquest acted as a kind of unique judgment on the natural qualities and human privileges of men and nations. In this we may detect the first traces of later naturalistic transformations the might-right doctrine was to go through. This view is really corroborated by the fact that Boulainvilliers was one of the outstanding freethinkers of his time, and that his attacks on the Christian Church were hardly motivated by anticlericalism alone.

Boulainvilliers’ theory, however, still deals with peoples and not with races; it bases the right of the superior people on a historical deed, conquest, and not on a physical fact — although the historical deed already has a certain influence on the natural qualities of the conquered people. It invents two different peoples within France in order to counteract the new national idea, represented as it was to a certain extent by the absolute monarchy in alliance with the Tiers Etat. Boulainvilliers is anti-national at a time when the idea of nationhood was felt to be new and revolutionary, but had not yet shown, as it did in the French Revolution, how closely it was connected with a democratic form of government. Boulainvilliers prepared his country for civil war without knowing what civil war meant. He is representative of many of the nobles who did not regard themselves as representative of the nation, but as a separate ruling caste which might have much more in common with a foreign people of the “same society and condition” than with its compatriots. It has been, indeed, these anti-national trends that exercised their influence in the milieu of the emigres and finally were absorbed by new and outspoken racial doctrines late in the nineteenth century.

Not until the actual outbreak of the Revolution forced great numbers of the French nobility to seek refuge in Germany and England did Boulainvilliers’ ideas show their usefulness as a political weapon. In the meantime, his influence upon the French aristocracy was kept alive, as can be seen in the works of another Comte, the Comte Dubuat-Nangay, who wanted to tie French nobility even closer to its continental brothers. On the eve of the Revolution, this spokesman of French feudalism felt so insecure that he hoped for “the creation of a kind of Internationale of aristocracy of barbarian origin,” and since the German nobility was the only one whose help could eventually be expected, here too the true origin of the French nation was supposed to be identical with that of the Germans and the French lower classes, though no longer slaves, were not free by birth but by “affranchisscment,” by grace of those who were free by birth, of the nobility. A few years later the French exiles actually tried to form an internationale of aristocrats in order to stave off the revolt of those they considered to be a foreign enslaved people. And although the more practical side of these attempts suffered the spectacular disaster of Valmy, emigres like Charles Francois Dominique de Villiers, who about 1800 opposed the “Gallo-Romains” to the Germanics, or like William Alter who a decade later dreamed of a federation of all Germanic peoples, did not admit defeat. It probably never occurred to them that they were actually traitors, so firmly were they convinced that the French Revolution was a “war between foreign peoples” — as Francois Guizot much later put it.

While Boulainvilliers, with the calm fairness of a less disturbed time, based the rights of nobility solely on the rights of conquest without directly depreciating the very nature of the other conquered nation, the Comte de Montlosier, one of the rather dubious personages among the French exiles, openly expressed his contempt for this “new people risen from slaves . . . (a mixture) of all races and all times.” Times obviously had changed and noblemen who no longer belonged to an unconquered race also had to change. They gave up the old idea, so dear to Boulainvilliers and even to Montesquieu, that conquest alone, fortune des armes, determined the destinies of men. The Valmy of noble ideologies came when the Abbe Sieyes in his famous pamphlet told the Tiers Etat to “send back into the forests of Franconia all those families who preserve the absurd pretension of being descended from the conquering race and of having succeeded to their rights.”

It is rather curious that from these early times when French noblemen in their class struggle against the bourgeoisie discovered that they belonged to another nation, had another genealogical origin, and were more closely tied to an international caste than to the soil of France, all French racial theories have supported the Germanism or at least the superiority of the Nordic peoples as against their own countrymen. For if the men of the French Revolution identified themselves mentally with Rome, it was not because they opposed to the “Germanism” of their nobility a “Latinism” of the Tiers Etat, but because they felt they were the spiritual heirs of Roman Republicans. This historical claim, in contrast to the tribal identification of the nobility, might have been among the causes that prevented “Latinism” from emerging as a racial doctrine of its own. In any event, paradoxical as it sounds, the fact is that Frenchmen were to insist earlier than Germans or Englishmen on this idee fixe of Germanic superiority. Nor did the birth of German racial consciousness after the Prussian defeat of 1806, directed as it was against the French, change the course of racial ideologies in France. In the forties of the last century, Augustin Thierry still adhered to the identification of classes and races and distinguished between a “Germanic nobility” and a “Celtic bourgeoisie,” and again a nobleman, the Comte de Remusat, proclaimed the Germanic origin of the European aristocracy. Finally, the Comte de Gobineau developed an opinion already generally accepted among the French nobility into a full-fledged historical doctrine, claiming to have detected the secret law of the fall of civilizations and to have exalted history to the dignity of a natural science. With him race-thinking completed its first stage, and began its second stage whose influences were to be felt until the twenties of our century.

It is commonly said by scholars that Mass was said only in Greek, not Latin, in Rome in the early centuries. I am inclined to think that this will turn out to be one of those fads that dominate the academy for a while but pass away when the prestige of their initiators has faded from people’s minds.

Fr Uwe Michael Lang, in his useful book ‘The Voice of the Church at Prayer’ summarises the reasons for believing that Greek and not Latin was used for the Mass in those early days.

1. St Paul wrote to the Romans in Greek and the earliest known literary productions of the Roman Church (the Letter of Pope Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the writings of Justin Martyr) are in Greek. Therefore Greek was the ‘prevailing language’ of the Roman Church.

2. In the first two centuries there were several popes with Greek names, and Christian tomb inscriptions were written in Greek.

3. Victorinus, writing in Latin in Rome about 360, quotes some Greek words from a Eucharistic prayer.

4. ‘Ambrosiaster’, who was ‘perhaps a Roman presbyter’ writing about the same time says that some Latin-speakers prefer to chant in Greek, even without understanding the language, and that some Latins prefer the Creed in Greek.

And that seems to be it. It’s pretty weak. Suspiciously so, in fact. Are we not dealing here with an academic fad or fashion supported mainly by an aversion to Romanitas?

To look at the arguments in turn:-

1. All these examples show is that there were Greek speakers in the Church of Rome in the early centuries, but no one doubts that anyway. They hardly show that Greek was the prevailing language; but even if they did, they wouldn’t show that Latin was never used for the Mass. To come to the individual examples, if St Paul wrote to the Romans in Greek, that was perhaps because of the people sufficiently educated to be able to follow his epistle, a large number would have known that language, and because he wanted to quote throughout from the Greek version of the Old Testament, which had a much higher authority than any Latin version, if any Latin one existed. St Justin Martyr was from the Eastern half of the empire and only an immigrant in Rome, so it’s hardly surprising that he wrote in Greek. St Clement’s letter was written to the Corinthians, so naturally it was in Greek. 1st century Greeks were not, I think, in the habit of reading Latin. The origins of the Shepherd of Hermas are mysterious, but whoever wrote it, and whenever it was written, all it proves is that its author knew Greek!

2. Again, all this shows is that Greek was an influence in Rome in the early centuries. Some popes had Greek names because lots of people had Greek names, even in Rome. They didn’t necessarily all speak Greek as their first language, any more than a man with a Polish name born in England today to a second-generation Polish father and an English mother necessarily speaks Polish. Even if they did speak Greek as their first language, they would also have spoken Latin fluently, so what is proved about the liturgical language? Not all epitaphs are in Greek in the catacombs; the two languages are mixed together, sometimes in the same inscription.

3. As Fr Lang points out, Victorinus quotes the same part of the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin as well, elsewhere in the same work. In any case, it corresponds to part of a Syrian rite, not to any rite that is known to have been used in Rome. Yet the argument from Victorinus is often presented as the proof that Greek was the only liturgical language in Rome even into the second half of the 4th century!

4. The fact that Ambrosiaster talks of some people liking to sing Greek only shows that there was Greek in the Roman rite in his day. But so there is in our day: Kyrie eleison, hagios ho theos, hagios ischyros, hagios athanatos.  Why might there not have been a Latin Mass with some Greek used, especially for those parts that were shared by the non-Roman rites?

No doubt plenty of Greek was spoken at dinner-parties in first century Rome. But the language of Rome was, well, Latin. It was the language of the ordinary people, but also that of the Senate. St Peter was not unaware Rome was to be the chief see of the empire of Christ on earth. Why would he and his successors have avoided the use of the Roman and imperial tongue; that language which, no less than Greek and Hebrew, had already proclaimed on the first Good Friday that God was reigning from the wood?

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